THOUGHTS ON THE JERUSALEM DECLARATION 2: Proposing a Life-and-Death Amendment

In my first essay on “Gafcon and the Church” I argued that the Jerusalem Declaration is establishing an ecclesial identity for the Gafcon movement in the Anglican Communion. The first seven clauses and the final clause lay the biblical and historical framework of the apostolic faith in the Anglican tradition: the Gospel, the Lordship of Jesus, the Bible, the Creeds and Councils, the Anglican Articles of Religion, worship according to the Book of Common Prayer, and the threefold order of ministry according to the Ordinal, and the Second Coming of Christ.

The next clauses 8-13 address those issues of particular urgency in our day: marriage and sexuality; the mission imperative; stewardship of the earth and commitment to justice; and church unity and diversity and its limits (ecumenism and discipline). When our Statement group was considering these issues, we neglected to address one topic: life and death, which is equally rooted in Scripture and under attack in contemporary culture. I do not remember the topic coming up one way or the other. It should have. We just missed it.

I think we should remedy this omission.

Proposal for a Life and Death Clause

Here is my proposed wording for an additional clause:

We acknowledge God as the Lord of life and death: ultimately he gives and he takes away. We support and hail the efforts of physicians and medical researchers when their work promotes the natural processes of life and death. But abortion, euthanasia, intentional suicide, transgender modification, and reproductive and genetic engineering are affronts to God’s sovereignty and to human dignity in God’s image.

But Can the Jerusalem Declaration Be Amended?

The Jerusalem Statement with its Declaration was acclaimed unanimously by the 1,000+ members of the Assembly in Jerusalem in June 2008. It has been maintained as the official confession or formulary of the Gafcon movement.  Affirmation of the Jerusalem Declaration has been required for participation in subsequent conferences and for membership in the Primates Council. It has been widely praised by orthodox Anglicans and was even considered as an entry in a contemporary anthology of Christian creeds.

Is the Jerusalem Declaration therefore etched in stone alongside the Tables of the Law? I do not think so.

The Jerusalem Declaration itself appeals to seemingly timeless creedal, confessional, and liturgical standards that have been revised. Clause 3 refers to the four Ecumenical Councils and three Creeds of the patristic church, and Clauses 4,6, and 7 refer to the Anglican Articles of Religion and the Prayer Book and Ordinal. Yet the Creed of Nicaea (325 AD) was revised at the Council of Constantinople (381); Cranmer’s 42 Articles (1553) were revised to 39 Articles under Elizabeth I (1571); the Prayer Books and Ordinals were revised several times from 1549, 1552, and 1559 before reaching the standard version of 1662.

In the political sphere, the United States Constitution (ratified 1789) has often been held up as a classic document, but it was amended immediately ten times (the so-called Bill of Rights in 1791) and a total of 27 times, with one amendment having been repealed.

Formularies, to be sure, should not be casually amended and only with the fullest authority of its polity, but just as councils can err and have erred, so statements of faith and order may need to be corrected or supplemented from time to time. What I am proposing as an amendment to the Jerusalem Declaration is a new clause, consistent with the other clauses but filling in an accidental omission in the original. I hope it will be evaluated by Gafcon leaders, perhaps itself be amended, and be presented to a future Assembly for ratification.

Why It is Important

It is generally agreed that the culture wars in the West gravitate around matters of “anthropology,” what it means to be human, created in God’s image. According to the first chapters in Genesis, self-consciousness before God (the soul), sexuality and marriage (two sexes-one flesh), life and death are all fundamental to being human:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28 ESV)

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7 KJV)

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 NIV)

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19 ESV)

These texts are interlocking. God’s unique image is formed in persons of body and soul and in a marital union of male and female which will lead to the procreation of children and a wider society (Jesus also blesses faithful singleness). Even disobedience and death cannot undo God’s work: sinful creatures will return to dust with the hope of future mercy and redemption (Genesis 3:15; Ecclesiastes 3:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:22).

The sanctity of male and female, of conception and birth, of marriage, of death and burial all fit together in the biblical economy of creation and salvation. Hence willful murder of another and self-murder (suicide) are outside the pale of biblical ethics and bear the ultimate penalty: exclusion from God’s presence (Revelation 22:15). For a mother and father to sacrifice their own offspring or for children to authorize “mercy killing” of a parent are truly unnatural acts caused by demonic delusion.

As with all God’s laws, the absolute language of condemning these acts as sinful does not condemn irrevocably those who commit them.  Indeed Jesus has opened the way to all who turn to Him, as St. John says: “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Suicide, which in our day has increased dramatically along with unbelief, loneliness, and despair, is particularly grievous but often a sign of mental and emotional disorder; God alone knows and judges the heart.

The rejection of God’s Lordship over life and death is not only personal but political. Ours is a society that chooses to play God with human life and human identity. Healing and the medical arts are both gifts of God and to be practiced, as noted in the Hippocratic Oath, in the fear of God. This ethic is utterly contrary to the current enlisting, even compelling, of doctors to administer poison to their patients, and to carve up, hormonize, and neuter the bodies of confused and delusional children and adults in the bogus name of “transgender identity.” One can only respond to this “ethic” in the words of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, “the horror, the horror!”

Uninhibited scientific research will certainly yield “miraculous” cures – indeed that is its attraction. To the extent, however, that it oversteps the boundary of God’s creative principles, it is a work of Faustian hubris. In ages past, tampering with the basics of human life and death was merely a fantasy; today it is a fearful reality. Leon Kass, chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics, issued this prophetic warning:

Contemplating present and projected advances in genetic and reproductive technologies, in neuroscience and psychopharmacology, in the development of artificial organs and computer-chip implants for human brains, and in research to retard aging, we now clearly recognize new uses for biotechnical power that soar beyond the traditional medical goals of healing disease and relieving suffering. Human nature itself lies on the operating table, ready for alteration, for eugenic and neuropsychic “enhancement,” for wholesale redesign. (Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity [2000], page 3)

Secular prophets like Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and George Orwell (1984) have described dystopias where human beings are hatched, programmed, and dispatched by an all-controlling Big Brother, who is a stand-in for God. C.S. Lewis, a contemporary of Huxley and Orwell, described the danger to human nature and freedom in his little book The Abolition of Man and his science fiction trilogy has become fact in too many ways. The worst fears of these 20th century prophets are being fulfilled in the 21st.

Some in the Global South may dismiss these matters as a peculiarly Western problem. Think again: it is coming your way. A recent UNESCO policy paper is proposing to pressure governments to impose “comprehensive sexuality education,” which includes promotion of “contraception, safe abortion, sexual orientation and gender identity.” UNESCO claims that its policy has been successful in Ghana, Kenya, India, Thailand, and Zimbabwe, but notes that progress has been obstructed by religious opposition from local politicians, teachers and parents, e.g., in Uganda. There is great need for improved maternal and child health in many nations, but beware of language for about women’s “reproductive health care” that is code for abortion.

Following Jesus

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself was tempted by Satan, who offered Him the whole world in return for His soul, and He replied: “Begone, Satan!” In turn He challenged His disciples:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

The desire to become god-like and live forever is age-old (Genesis 3:4-5). It is a satanic delusion, whether it comes via a supernatural dream or a miracle cure. Christians have never been promised a paradise in this life but rather a heavenly city, where God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, we must stand firm against the godless fantasies that science can offer because they come at a fearful price. Adding a clause to the Jerusalem Declaration will signal our witness to take up our cross and follow Him in the way that leads to the only true life.

Photo: Gafcon Bishops in Jerusalem 2008 (Gafcon)